Finding the Late Bluff by Bill Ricardi
New players tend to take things to extremes. One of the worst extremes that you can go to is being too passive: Folding too often to any show of strength from other players at the table. You might do this for various reasons, such as being overprotective of your bankroll or not being confident enough to believe in your own play. Either way, unless you learn to detect a late bluff, you're going to be losing money to those who would victimize you.
Step one is paying attention. When you sit down at the table, you have to observe the hands in progress, whether or not you're personally involved. That way you can make judgements on the play style of others. Are they tricky? Do they only play good hands, but play weakly (Rock)? Do they tend to play good hands, and play the aggressively (Tight-Aggressive)? Are they just wild and crazy? Once you have some idea of everyone's play style, you should see if they have any 'tells'.
A 'tell' is some physical or verbal sign that a player has a good hand or a bad hand. It might be a nervous twitch, or the way he stacks his chips. It might be the speed with which he moves or acts. They might whistle or talk too much. When you can match up a player's habits to the strength of their hand, you have a possible way of detecting whether or not they're bluffing.
Now you have all of the tools that you need. But how do you put them all together? A lot of pros compare the playing of a poker hand to telling a story. Every action is another line in the story. In the end, you should be able to figure out what hand each player has when you review their actions. The story has to add up, otherwise one of the players was being very tricky, or a bluff has happened.
For example, let's say you're going up against a tight-aggressive player. This player tends to be very controlled, making the same gestures all the time, using very standard betting patterns. He raises strong hands and doesn't play weak ones. Pre-flop and in mid position, you find yourself with pocket 8s 8h. You raise to three times the big blind, and the tight player in the small blind is the only caller. The flop is Ts 8c 2h. You caught your set. The tight player slides out a raise into your set, half the pot. You make a minimum re-raise, trying to milk him for more chips. He makes a slow call. The turn is a 4 of hearts. The other player checks, you bet three quarters of the pot, and the other player calls. The turn is the queen of hearts. The tight player tosses out a bet that is one and a half the size of the pot. That's half of his total stack, and more than half of what you have left.
What does the story say? In order to call your pre-flop bet, he had to have a good hand. But not good enough to test you with a re-raise. You might put him on two high cards, or a medium pair because of this. The action on the flop might suggest that he caught part of the flop. This narrows things down a bit. Does he have AT? Maybe pocket jacks for the over-pair? Either way, the turn probably didn't help either player. He's either being tricky or weak with the check. But he still has the guts to make the call. Now the river is troubling. A third heart that also puts a straight out there has hit the board and the other player bets heavily. But does his story add up?
If he had J9, this particular player probably would have folded pre-flop. If he had KK, he might have re-raised before the flop. He might have been playing TT tricky, but then that's a risky river bet. Two hearts? Well you have one, and the only hand that you can think of that follows the action would be AhTh, but there's another factor involved. There's also the fact that his normal bet is slid out, and that river bet was tossed out, like he didn't expect to get the chips back.
When all the signs point to a bluff or semi-bluff, when the story doesn't add up, then you make the call. In this case, it's the right call. He had a pair of Jacks, always difficult to play before the flop, and tough when faced with a re-raise on the flop. So he looked for a place to steal, but the 'story' was badly told. Picking off his bluff on the river has made you the chip leader.
So when considering a call, remember the player's style, tells
, and most of all see if their story adds up! That way, you'll have the best chance to make a good read and maintain a strong table image.